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Smoking Gun? An Argument with Myself on Tobacco Use in Film


smoking gunThere’s a new study out there urging all films that include smoking cigarettes to be rated R, due to the effects it can have on children watching. But to automatically remove all notions of smoking for that young “tween” age might be shortsighted; and there’s a polarizing debate inside the film community.

There’s a pretty strong debate going on between my alter egos as well, as I go Point/Counterpoint on this drag deliberation.

A No-No?

First, let’s argue against it. After all, I have science on my side and I was raised with the idea that smoking should only be done on the grill with a slab of meat. We all know that your young teenage years are the most impressionable of your life, and if copycat smoking makes more young people turn to a lifelong and costly habit, well that should be reason enough to keep it out of PG-13 movies.

There’s also the heavy math and data. According to a study that appears in the August issue of the journal Pediatrics, for every 500 smoking scenes a child saw in PG-13 movies, his or her likelihood of trying cigarettes increased by 49 percent. That’s a massive jump for something so serious, and the thought is that assigning an R rating to these films would lower the estimates by 18 percent.  That’s a very important difference.

Lead author, Dr. James D. Sargent, a cancer-prevention specialist and professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School, equates it to swearing and violence . . . which are both metered by the Motion Picture Association of America, or the MPAA. But since 2007, the association has included smoking among its criteria, although they keep in consideration it’s frequency, historical relevance, and overall glamorization. So maybe a clean sweep of everything “tobacco” isn’t the answer.

Uh oh, it feels like I’m turning around on this issue.

Artistic License

Here’s the only real argument I have to keep the ratings system in tact, relying only on a move to an R rating if the smoking is so grossly obvious and intended to show what a joy it is to smoke cigarettes . . . common sense. I’ve been in this business a long time now, and I understand that occasionally artists need to show some not-so-nice images to get their point across.

If the presence of a cigarette is the reason that a film becomes less widely available, it would be a shame; especially if that film was trying to show the horrors of nicotine addiction. To simply draw a line in the sand would be bastardizing any film that took place before the 90’s, any film that is showing addiction, and any film that would rely on that pack of smokes to illustrate the choices their protagonist is willing to make.

For that reason, creativity alone, there can be no rigid ruling on what can make the cut in PG-13 and what can’t. It needs to be open to interpretation if we’re ever going to create greatness that will still be acceptable for mass audiences.

So what’s the verdict? Well, as usual, I can see it both ways.  All I know is that regardless of the ruling, I hope that the glorification of cigarettes is forever out of films available to kids.

For now, I’ll stick with a different addiction . . . arguing with myself.


Cited Sources

Sargent, James D. "Influence of Motion Picture Rating on Adolescent Response to Movie Smoking." Influence of Motion Picture Rating on Adolescent Response to Movie Smoking. N.p., 9 July 2012. Web. 10 July 2012. <http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2012/07/03/peds.2011-1787.full.pdf html?sid=39e4d14e-ff59-48a4-8719-8f8ccc3550ec>.

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